He will tell you upfront that his baking and cooking are not like the rest in the market.
Caleb Cooke, 29, is the owner of Cooke’s Finest, a company that specializes in catering –– mainly pastries.
The entrepreneur told Barbados TODAY that while it was never his intention to own a business, now that he did, he did not believe he could go back working in a “nine-to-five job” for anyone.
Cooke’s journey as a businessman started when he was laid off from the now defunct airline REDjet in 2011. After the former cabin crew member was placed on the breadline, Cooke started the part-time business Apple Fruit Salads, selling mainly fruit salads; but a year later he decided to open a full-time operation, and he did some cooking, as well as baking. He changed the company’s name just over a month ago.
He said that while working in the airline industry he was privileged to have a lot of free time and he had got “accustomed to that”.
“So to go back to a nine-to-five job, Monday to Friday, it was a little hard. So I said, ‘You know what? Let me just try my own business and see how it goes’, and it basically went from there,” Cooke explained.
“I like the idea of getting up when I can and doing what I can in my time; and then you have free time to do things you want to do. Time-wise, it is flexible,” he quipped, though admitting his passion had always been to work in aviation.
But the former Coleridge & Parry student said his going back to work for an airline in the foreseeable future was iffy.
“If Barbados decides to have its own airline, then maybe yes . . . . Outside of that it will be quite tricky,” he said.
Cooke, who also studied at the Barbados Community College, as well as the Cave Hill School Of Business, currently works with two full-time employees. He said it was in June, 2012, that he decided to diversify his product offering.
“So just doing a study, we came up with cheesecakes as the next thing that could make money in terms of baking. Everything else followed after that,” he said.
The main products sold by the Rock Dundo Park, Cave Hill, St Michael home-based business are cheesecakes and chocolate cakes. There are also tiramisu and cheesecake mousse on offer.
And although he is comfortable with how business is going at present, Cooke said he had big plans to expand his operations.
“One of the things I am now passionate about is to own a restaurant. I don’t want it to be just any restaurant. I would like a restaurant where we are high-rise on top of a revolving floor,” he revealed.
“I find in Barbados you tend to find a lot of restaurants are close to the coast. While we don’t have that many hills and vast scenery in Barbados, we still have some sort of scenery here . . . . To picture that while dining on that revolving floor, I think that is something Barbados could do with. It would also help the tourism product, because it is something different from what currently exists,” he explained.
What he especially likes most about his job is the fact that he, as well as his clients, are able to express their creativity.
“I have that opportunity to be really artistic and create new flavours. I get feedback and see where I may need to improve,” he said.
When Cooke first got his business going there was a major challenge of sourcing some fruits at an affordable price –– which he pretty much still faces. And he is suggesting that the Government do more to help small businesses by considering lowering the taxes entrepreneurs must pay to import items.
“I find that prices are too high, and we as small businesses, having to pay the duties and taxes, it is really hard. Then some of the products that you need are not available here; so it is either you bring them in yourself and then you have to pay the duties, or, two, you go to someone else and they bring them in.
“But they don’t bring in things on a small scale; you may then have to end up buying a whole case or crate; and that is difficult for us small business operators because we don’t have thousands to fork out like that,” said Cooke.
He also believes there can be more leniency for those who have to do delivery from their personal vehicles, since it was “not always feasible” to use a car park just to make one or two deliveries in some towns.
Cooke’s Finest has a client base from international markets, such as Miami, New York and Britain, that are able to
place orders through its website cookesfinest.com.
“We have overseas clients who place orders online and send to their families and friends here,” said Cooke, pointing out that some people would also place an order ahead of their visit to the island.
As to competition, the entrepreneur said while he had found “from the grandmother back down to everybody seems to be baking”, he was not fazed by it because he was satisfied he was offering a superior product –– and everyone had “their demographic”.
The baker pointed out that in the industry there were a number of operators guilty of “taking shortcuts”, selling people inferior products at a cheaper price in an effort to get more business.
Cooke said it was important that anyone who wanted to own his or her own business did much research before getting started.
“Don’t just say baking is making money; or selling jewellery is making money, so let me go and do it. You need to do research and see if something is being done, how you can better it or diversify what is being done already,” he advised.
“You can do surveys by going around and talking to people, and use social media to see what else you can possibly do. You can also do research online to see what other small businesses overseas are doing, so that you can probably take a leaf out of their book,” suggested Cooke.